Free remodel estimate? I recently read an article about a seminar on “Free Estimates”. One of the contractors in attendance said that he felt compelled to provide free estimates because that’s what his competition did. The speaker suggested a role play. When the contractor, in the role of the homeowner, asked for a free remodel estimate, the speaker, playing the role of the contractor, said “OK, how about $45,000.” The contractor, with a blank expression on his face, asked, “What’s that for?” The speaker replied, “I don’t know—you said you wanted a free remodel estimate, so I gave you one.”
That exchange still makes me smile when I think about it. As the speaker went on to explain, and every contractor knows, a lot of guesswork and assumptions go into a free remodel estimate. They have little to no value.
Think about this for a minute. If you don’t have a fully developed set of plans, you’re really expecting a contractor to estimate an idea you have in your head. When you discuss this idea with 2-3 different contractors, you’re probably going to get 2-3 interpretations of what your idea may entail. With these interpretations will come very different pricing – and you really have no idea what you’re getting for that price! Sure, your head is saying “Awesome! I’m getting everything I wanted for my budget – what a deal!” Unfortunately for you, in the contractor’s head, he’s allowing something much different for what he thinks is fair for your budget! Here is where the trouble starts and only gets worse.
The only responsible way to estimate a project (bathroom, kitchen, room addition, etc.) is to analyze a detailed set of plans and specifications that everyone agrees to. Only after performing a thorough analysis of the completed plans and specifications illustrating all dimensions, makes, models, colors, sizes, building, removals, installation, placement, etc. can the project be properly priced. Now, everyone is on the same page for the same project. The project is completed, and everyone is happy! The process works beautifully every time!
If a contractor claims they can provide a FREE estimate, then how much time do you think they will invest in your free estimate? Will they invest the 15-40 hours of pricing research I know it requires? What if YOUR free estimate is one of MANY they’ve already promised to provide? Is it realistic to expect a contractor to invest 15-40 hours of pricing research for every single homeowner they meet? The answer is, probably not. There are just not enough hours in the day.
The best approach is to hire a design/build firm like DAD’s Construction. Why? Absolutely nobody is going to understand your project better than the company that designed it. This is the only company that can correctly price your job . . . they designed it – they know your job intimately! Asking a contractor to perform an estimate from a set of plans and specifications developed by somebody else (another Design/Build firm, Contractor, Architect, Designer, Engineer, etc.) will be a disaster. This will cost you a lot more money overall and typically with less than satisfactory results. Don’t do it! Whoever designs the project is the right company to price and build/remodel your home. For more information on choosing the right contractor, see How Do I Choose a Contractor?
The bottom line – a free estimate is just an educated guess. A professional estimate is something of value and substance. You may have to pay for this value and substance, but that upfront cost far outweighs the unforeseen costs that come with incomplete information. Plus, it’s a show of good faith to the contractor that you value their time, which in turn, will allow them to value your project. It’s a win-win.
VERY IMPORTANT – There is no greater way to torpedo your project than to choose a contractor based on a free estimate and before the plans and specifications are final! Be very careful with anyone who provides you with a multiline computer-generated estimate before the plans and specifications are final. Ask yourself “how could they possibly provide me with a meaningful estimate based on my needs without first completing a through set of plans and specifications that I agree with.” The answer is they can’t.
It’s About Value
Well thought out estimates have real value. On a typical project, these services may include:
Meeting with the client
Conducting a comprehensive needs analysis
Taking as-built measurements and pictures
Preparing conceptual Plans/Drawings
Meeting with the client again
Preparing a detailed set of Plans with elevations
Meeting with trade contractors and material suppliers
Revising the Plans
Producing the Title 24 Fenestration Report (AKA energy calculations)
Preparing and integrating into the design Plans the Structural Engineering Plans
Producing the final set of Plans with elevations
HOA submittal package
Producing a detailed by line item estimate with the manufactures name, model, and pricing. Pricing should include all materials, parts, labor, installation, taxes, shipping, and transportation.
Meeting with the client again
Preparing and submitting all the Plans, drawings, elevations, engineering, and Title 24. This includes all permitting forms and applications to the Building and Planning Department. This includes review, approval, and issuance of the building permits.